August 31, 2017

Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

It's a big weekend for baking! Between Labor Day barbecues, tailgating for the first football game, and all my friends that heard I'm back in town, I have a lot on my plate (literally). Luckily, I have this recipe for a gorgeous tart that just so happens to be Badger red and can easily be adapted for Labor Day red, white, and blue. The cheesecake filling is rich and creamy, and the fresh berries on top make it the perfect centerpiece for any party.

For all you cheesecake purists, yes this recipe is a bit different. I use a sweet pie crust instead of a traditional graham cracker crust and there's obviously a difference in size. I like to think of this as a benefit, though, since by baking only a thin layer of cheesecake your baking time is drastically reduced. Instead of going through all the effort of a water bath and waiting at least an hour, your tart is perfectly baked and ready to go in less than 20 minutes. You still have to chill it for a bit like any good cheesecake, but you're that much closer to cheesecake heaven.

You can easily swap out the pie crust for a graham cracker crust, but I think the buttery, flaky crust does a better job of supporting the cheesecake and all those berries. I'm a sucker for a good pie crust, so maybe I'm just biased, but I also think that it makes the tart more similar to all the gorgeous fruit pies of the summer.

The cheesecake filling is pretty simple, not much different than your typical cheesecake aside from being scaled down a bit. There's cream cheese, of course, as well as sugar, vanilla, and an egg. One egg may not sound like much, but it's enough to bind everything together in this amount of filling. I also add a few dollops of sour cream for a hint of tang and to lighten it up. You can add other flavors here as well; orange zest would pair well with berries, as would most other citruses.

The trick to a perfect cheesecake is in the baking time. As I quickly learned when making my first cheesecake a few years ago, this is not one of those times where you're waiting on a clean toothpick. The doneness is better judged by the jiggle test: when the cheesecake is just barely set and only has a slight jiggle in the middle, it's done. Cheesecake also sets up better when you chill it for a couple hours after letting it cool on the counter.

The final touch for me is a layer of sliced strawberries. We're nearing the end of berry season and everything on campus is red for welcome week and football, so I'm all about the strawberries. If you're making this for labor day, you can also throw in some blueberries for a more patriotic look. Peaches would also be delicious, and you can adapt this for year-round enjoyment with whatever fruit is in season. I've found that roasting fruit brings out its natural sweetness, so even in the dead of winter, you can have a gorgeous cheesecake tart with delicious fruit on top.

1 Recipe Sweet Crust
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/4 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
1 lb Strawberries, Sliced

Heat oven to 375ºF and grease a 9-11" round tart pan.

Blind bake the crust in the prepared pan.

Lower the oven to 325F.

Beat the cream cheese and sour cream until fluffy. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat in the egg, then pour into the crust. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until just set.

When cool, layer the sliced strawberries on top.

Serves 8

August 17, 2017

Cheesy Chicken and Orzo Casserole

It's crunch time at my internship, and I know most of you are busy going back to school or preparing to send your kids back to school. Basically, it's that time of year where you want to keep eating healthy and cooking but there's hardly any time. That's why I love recipes like this casserole, which is a full meal on its own, keeps the dishes to a minimum, and has plenty of leftovers. Here, I get to use all my favorite Italian flavors and bake them up together with plenty of cheese. It's cozy and comforting but still incredibly easy to make.

The orzo makes up the base of the dish. You can theoretically use whatever pasta you want, but orzo is quick and the texture works well for a casserole. If you've never had it before, it's essentially pasta shaped like grains of rice, so you get that texture without the finicky cooking process (you could also just use rice if you prefer). I add chicken broth to the cooking liquid for maximum flavor, and I make sure not to rinse the pasta when it's done cooking to preserve the starches on the outside. Yes, rinsing pasta with water cools it down and stops the cooking process, but I'm going to need you to stop that this instant. Rinsing off those lovely starches prevents the sauce from sticking later on, and if you're really worried about overcooking your pasta just take it out a minute earlier. I don't even cook the orzo through here anyway since it continues to cook in the oven, so rinsing it certainly won't help you.

The proteins get cooked next; I use sausage for extra flavor and heartiness, specifically a (spicy) Italian sausage. Once it's nice and brown, you're left with a good layer of seasoned fat in the pan to cook the rest of the ingredients in. This is particularly useful if you're using raw chicken, but if you'd like to use a diced rotisserie chicken to save time (totally understandable), it's just as good for cooking the vegetables in later. If you're not a sausage person, you can just increase the amount of chicken, or you can scrap my recommendations entirely and switch to ground beef or ground turkey. This recipe is extremely easy to adapt, so be creative with your proteins.

Once all the meats are cooked, I brown the garlic and onions in the residual fat. Those are mixed with tomato paste, Italian herbs, and some fresh tomatoes to bulk it up a bit. I know tomato season is sadly coming to an end, so canned petite diced tomatoes will work fine in the cooler months. That only has to cook for a few minutes before you return the meats to the pan and add the orzo, cheese, and a bit of chicken broth to allow the orzo to cook through. You can also add in some more vegetables like spinach or eggplant for a healthier dish.

Since all the meat is cooked and the orzo is most of the way there, we are really just baking this to make everything hot and gooey and bubbly. I bake mine for 15-20 minutes so the pasta doesn't get too mushy but it all has a chance to cook together. There will likely be leftovers as well, so you can either microwave them or pop them back in the oven for a few minutes until they are hot again. It's the perfect back-to-school dinner (or just a general crazy weeknight dinner) since you can get your meat, carbs, and veggies all in one bite and still have enough for lunch the next day.

2 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 1/2 Cups Orzo
1/2 lb Italian Sausage
1 1/2 lbs Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, Diced (or rotisserie chicken)
1 Small Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 lbs Tomatoes, Diced (or 1 can petite diced tomatoes)
2 T Tomato Paste
1/2 tsp Basil
1/2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella
1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan
Spinach, Diced Eggplant, etc. (Optional)

Heat oven to 350ºF and grease a 7x11" glass pan.

Bring 2 cups chicken broth and 3 cups water to a boil in a small or medium pot. Add the orzo and boil for 6 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.

Heat some oil in a large pot. Brown the sausage, remove, and dice. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, sear in the drippings, and remove. Add the onions to the pot and cook for 4 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato paste, parcooked orzo, and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add the sausage, chicken, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella and the parmesan. Add the vegetables, if using.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 18 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Cooking and Beer

August 6, 2017

Buttermilk Pie

I realize I've been posting a lot of dessert recipes lately. I promise I'll post some more healthy and/or savory recipes soon, but I just made this recipe today and it was too good not to share. Y'all, this pie tastes like a sugar cookie. A giant, velvety, creamy sugar cookie. I roasted off some fruit and piled it on top so I don't feel as guilty (and support my local farmers' market), but that doesn't change the fact that this pie is essentially a 2" thick pizza-sized gooey sugar cookie. There's a hint of tang from the buttermilk and sweet, floral vanilla bean, which is complemented by the tartness of the fruit on top. Although I made it with plums this week, you could easily swap them out for peaches, berries, or other summer fruits. You can roast them or not, and I've also served this pie plain.

The crust is my standard sweet pie crust. While the buttermilk pie at the bakery that inspired this recipe uses a shortbread cookie crust, I've found that my all-butter flaky pie crust stands up to the custard and can take on pretty decorations like the pattern in these pictures. I'll spare you the details since I've covered them in quite a few other posts, but remember to keep the butter (and the finished dough) cold and handle it as little as possible to avoid overworking it. There's no need to blind-bake it here because it takes so long to bake the custard, though you may need to cover the edges to prevent them from too much browning.

The filling is pretty unique. I'm sure many of you haven't even heard of a buttermilk pie, especially if you aren't in the south and don't use buttermilk on a regular basis. It's a lot like a chess pie, which is a rich, custardy filling almost like pecan pie without the pecans. This recipe starts with melted butter, sugar, and eggs plus a bit of flour to hold it together and, of course, the buttermilk. The buttermilk bulks up the pie, gives it a lovely creamy color, and provides a subtle tartness so the sweetness isn't too overwhelming. The eggs and the flour are responsible for the texture; the pie should just jiggle when you pull it out of the oven and will set to a dense, fudgy custard after chilling for a few hours. The trick is to mix it by hand until just combined to avoid whipping air into the filling.

I also like to throw in a vanilla bean for flavor. If you don't have a vanilla bean, you can easily substitute a spoonful or two of vanilla extract. I've also seen this recipe made with a pinch of nutmeg, and you can try different flavors as well. You could stir in some citrus zest for extra tartness or fold in fresh fruit or fruit puree to bake right in instead of topping the pie (or do both).

For my fruit this week, I sliced up some plums, sprinkled them with sugar, and roasted them until tender. This draws out more of the fruit's natural sweetness and enhances the color. As I said earlier, I used plums because they happened to look particularly good at the farmers' market but really any fruit will do. You certainly don't have to roast them either. It may also be a good idea to leave the fruit off the pie until you plan to serve it; I just checked on mine from earlier today and some of the juices bled out onto the pie. It's still going to taste delicious regardless of what fruit you use or when you serve it, but I'd recommend a mix of colors just before serving for maximum appeal.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust (See Below)
1 Stick Butter, Melted
1 Cup + 2 T Sugar
3 Eggs
1 Vanilla Bean
Pinch Salt
3 T Flour
1 Cup Buttermilk
1 Pint Fruit, Optional

Heat oven to 350F and grease a 9" pie plate.

Roll the dough out to 10-11" in diameter and transfer to the prepared tin. Press gently to adhere and chill until cold.

Meanwhile, whisk the butter and 1 cup sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then whisk in the vanilla bean and salt. Fold in the flour and stir in the buttermilk.

Pour the custard into the crust and bake for 50-60 minutes or until just set, covering the edges if necessary.

Optional: Increase oven temperature to 375F and line a cookie tray with parchment. If using peaches or plums, cut into segments as desired. Spread the fruit onto the prepared tray and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from Tasting Table

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.